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First Thoughts: Obama vs. Congress

Obama picks a fight with Congress… But will it accomplish anything?... Romney’s bracketing of Obama continues, with the president raising money in Philadelphia and Romney in Allentown, PA (though Romney’s also raising money in Philly)… Bachmann talks about a personal tragedy… Our expectations for the 2nd quarter money chase, which ends today: For Obama, a good quarter would be $60 million+; a great quarter would be $80 million+… For Romney, a good quarter would be $30-$40 million… And for Pawlenty, will he raise more than the $6 million-plus Bill Richardson pulled in the 1st quarter of ’07?... Keep an eye on Bob McDonnell… White House gets a court victory on health care… And why is Dennis Kucinich in Syria?

*** Obama vs. Congress: There was an obvious reason why President Obama picked a fight with Congress yesterday: As Truman, Clinton, and practically every other modern president has shown, it’s always easy to beat up on it. After all, just 18% approved of Congress’ job in our latest NBC/WSJ poll, and only 10% said they had a high level of confidence in the legislative branch. And per Politico, just 18 bills “have become law through the first half of 2011, and 15 of those named a building after someone, temporarily extended expiring laws or appointed an official to the board of the Smithsonian Institution.” Obama’s tough talk also fired up his base, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issuing this statement: “Bravo! This is the fight House Democrats have been making for the last six months under the Republican Majority as they move to end Medicare and continue tax breaks for Big Oil.” It was praise covering up a subtle dig: House Democrats have been venting privately for months on the president's lack of a public fight.

*** But will it accomplish anything? But the question is whether it actually accomplished anything in the resolving the debt-ceiling debate. The issue is not with Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The framework for a deal is there. Instead, the issue is with Boehner and McConnell selling the deal to their rank-and-file members, who are opposed to eliminating ANY tax loophole. Check out this statement from GOP Sen. Jim DeMint: “Increasing the rates on the top earners in our economy will hurt investment, job creation and economic growth. Higher marginal rates reduce incentives to work and expand businesses.” And does the president's tough talk at Congress only stiffen the opposition? Then again, the president was trying to reframe a debate that many folks privately believe he was losing since the conversation was about "how much will get cut" not "what will get cut.” So the president tried to get the conversation toward "what will get cut."

*** Romney’s bracketing of Obama continues: President Obama today hits two fundraisers in Philadelphia -- one at 5:35 pm ET and the other at 8:30 pm. And once again, Mitt Romney (rather than stumping in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina) is bracketing the president in the state. At 4:10 pm in Allentown, PA, the former Massachusetts governor holds a press conference at Allentown Metal Works, which Obama once highlighted from benefitting from the stimulus but which has since closed its doors. So why is Romney in a state whose primary doesn’t take place until late April 2012? Part of it is focusing on Obama. But part of it is that Romney himself is raising money in the Keystone State before the end of the 2nd fundraising quarter. By the way, check out the Web ad Romney has up: reminder of how focused Team Romney is on message. This is targeted toward Allentown.

*** Bachmann talks about personal tragedy: In South Carolina yesterday, Michele Bachmann said something that you usually don’t hear on the campaign. She talked about a miscarriage she had. “After our second child was born, we became pregnant with a third baby,” Bachmann said last night. “And it was an unexpected baby, but of course we were delighted to have this child. And the child was coming along, and we ended up losing that child. And it was devastating for both of us, as you can imagine if any of you have lost a child.” More from Politico: “Bachmann said the miscarriage led to her and her husband’s decision to take in 23 foster children on top of a family that grew to include five biological children. But, she said, it also prompted them to reconsider their professional lives and goals. ‘At that moment we didn’t think of ourselves as overly career minded or overly materialistic,’ she said, also speaking for her husband. ‘When we lost that child, it changed us. And it changed us forever.’”

*** The “Stop Bachmann” movement begins? Speaking of Bachmann, though, is this the first sign of a “Stop Bachmann” movement from GOP elites? Here’s what Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told Politico’s Martin: “She’s an exciting candidate, she brings a lot of enthusiasm and I think she helps to rally the Republican base and I certainly have a lot of respect for her,” said Branstad. “But she doesn’t have the executive experience that governors have.”

*** The 2nd quarter money chase: Given that today is the end of the 2nd fundraising quarter in the presidential election (with official filings not due to the Federal Election Commission until July 15), we’re re-running our expectations from earlier this week:

-- A good quarter for Obama would be in excess of $60 million -- which is almost twice the amount (about $35 million) that both George W. Bush raised in the 2nd quarter of 2003 and Obama himself raised in the 2nd quarter of 2007. A great quarter would $80 million or more. Team Obama vigorously pushes back against these numbers, arguing that they’re unrealistic. The campaign says it’s shooting for a combined $60 million with the DNC’s cash. But if it matches its goal of having 450,000 donors for the quarter, an average donation of $200 gets you $90 million. And an average donation of $150 gets you $67.5 million.

-- As everyone expects, Romney will lap the GOP field in fundraising. His campaign is floating a haul of about $20 million for the quarter, but remember he raised MORE than $20 million in the first quarter of 2007. Given his $10 million-plus single fundraising day -- in addition to all of his other fundraisers over the past couple of months -- a very good quarter would be in excess of $30-$40 million. Note: Romney is raising only primary money (maximum contribution $2,500), and he isn’t putting any of his personal money into the pot.

--- For Pawlenty, we’ve heard and read that he’s expected to raise more than $2 to $4 million, which would be less than $6 million-plus that Bill Richardson pulled in during the 1st quarter of 2007. Anything substantially less than that -- not to mention the $10 million-plus Romney raised in a single day -- would be yet another blow for his campaign. Reminder: Pawlenty is from a bigger state than Richardson, and while Richardson had been at the DNC, Pawlenty had been No.2 at the RGA.

-- And how close do Bachmann and Huntsman – who’ve been in the race for two or three weeks now -- get to Pawlenty? Bachmann has proved she’s a formidable fundraiser, having raked in more than $13.5 million for her House race last year, and she has nearly $2 million left over from that campaign she can roll over to her presidential account. And Huntsman pulled in $1.2 million in a single fundraiser, and has said he’s loaning the campaign a certain amount to “prime the pump.

*** Keep an eye on Bob McDonnell: Chris Christie might get all the national attention, but keep an eye on Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, who won election the same year. A new Quinnipiac poll shows McDonnell with a 55%-26% job-approval rating in his state. (That’s compared with Christie’s 44%-47% approval rating in New Jersey, per the same polling firm.) Is there a Republican governor in the country from a swing state with better job ratings? Can you say Veepstakes? By the way, Quinnipiac has Tim Kaine and George Allen in a virtual dead heat in Virginia’s Senate race, with Kaine at 43% and Allen at 42%. Obama’s approval rating in the state is 48%-48%.Yes, Virginia, You are a Swing State.

*** White House gets court victory on health care: The Obama White House got a significant victory on its health-care law, although the Supreme Court will have the final say (probably next year). As NBC’s Pete Williams notes, a federal appeals court in Ohio yesterday upheld the Obama health-care law, marking the first time a Republican-appointed judge has found the most controversial part of the law constitutional. Yesterday’s ruling by a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was 2-1 on the "individual mandate" -- the requirement that all Americans get health insurance. One of the judges voting to uphold it was Jeffrey Sutton, an appointee of George W. Bush and a former law clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia, Williams adds. This brings to four the number of court decisions upholding the law. Two other courts have declared it unconstitutional, on its long march to the Supreme Court.

*** Why is Dennis Kucinich in Syria? While the House is on recess, Dennis Kucinich has been in … Syria. And he was quoted by the state news agency saying kind words about President Bashar al-Assad, whose government has been killing its own people. Kucinich late said he was misquoted, but why is he even there? He released this statement earlier this week: “Congressman Kucinich, who represents a district that includes many Arab-Americans, was asked by his constituents to investigate conditions on the ground in Syria and to see if resolution of a situation where violence has been spiraling and events are spinning out of control is possible.”

*** On the 2012 trail: Elsewhere today, Huntsman raises money in Boston and New York, while Paul is in New Hampshire.

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 44 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 75 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 131 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 221 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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